December 15, 2009

Review by Eric AndersonDan Beachy-Quick -This Nest

THIS NEST, SWIFT PASSERINE
by Dan Beachy-Quick

Tupelo Press
The Eclipse Mill, Loft 305
PO Box 1767
North Adams, MA 01247
ISBN 978-1932195606
2009, 72 pp., $16.95
www.tupelopress.org

In dynamics theory, turbulence is the term used for unpredictable motion. While it is often associated with fluid, turbulence can also represent the dispersion of a crowd, weather patterns, or as Dan Beachy-Quick explores in his recent collection, This Nest, Swift Passerine, the chaos hidden within “the electrical current by which the heart-muscle contracts” (“Twining of Second Themes”). I was drawn to This Nest not only because Beachy-Quick recognizes the unpredictable, or turbulent, connections between the past and present, but he attempts to harness this chaos and build from its languages, physics, and histories. Ultimately, he offers the reader “This Nest/ Alive with words not spoken by me/ which I repeat back” (“When I Seek“).

These words, not originally spoken by Beachy-Quick, appear throughout the book as both italicized text quoted from various sources noted in the back of the collection and as his own voice acting as a conduit for what has preceded him, an act he refers to as “the ever ripening ancient” (“The daily”). Text pulled from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal, Shakespeare, Ovid, Milton, Pound, Keats, Thoreau, Emerson and Dickinson twine between Beachy-Quick’s own lyrical, experimental, and expository writing. On first reading, this twining may seem to be a passive complacency to the influence of past writing, the hegemony of history, “the already spoken” which makes Beachy-Quick “Ancient without choice” (“Twining of First Themes”). But throughout this book length work, the poet attempts, through various poetic modes, to reclaim his location within the turbulence. He looks for the connections in his surrounding and takes ownership in understanding that “The fruit occurs in my eye as quickly as the force that through the fruit will force it to fall” (“The daily”). He injects himself into the world he studies and becomes a participating force:

The sparrows below zero

Do not move on the branches
Where each sits a music
In notation the whole tree is
Symphony tell me again how

To sing so the ear broods and eye
Coos open a summer coos
Open a summer leaf

Beachy-Quick takes this accessibility to the connections and mechanisms of the natural world not as the role of the witness, but of the creator. By accepting and channeling the voices of the past, the poet learns to give names to what is before him: “The first flowers were blue. I did not know their name. But I wish to speak of them. The first daffodils…” (“For a long“). What I find interesting about this empowerment within the ability to name what may be unknown to us is the ambiguity of the collection’s title. Passerine is part of the passeriform order of birds which includes half of the known bird species. I believe Beachy-Quick has resisted naming a specific bird in order to invite the reader to partake in the building of This Nest.

This acknowledgment of the reader is often missing in contemporary poetry. While I feel compelled to highlight Beachy-Quick’s lyrical virtuosity (both while working in a traditional lyric as well as in radical forms), I am most drawn to his inclusion of his reader. Much of today’s experimental poetics is averse to the idea of writing for an audience and is sometimes even conflicted in the production of writing that acknowledges that there was an author behind the text. Dan Beachy-Quick has worked against this trend, offering his audience the voices that have shaped his writing, the twining of the natural world, mistakes, and slippages of syntax that move from the lyrical to the fragmented. He has created This Nest showing the reader that it is possible to stand in the turbulence of influence and say, “Here I dwell” (“Twining of Twinings”).

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Eric Anderson lives in Melrose, Massachusetts. His poems have recently appeared in Rune: M.I.T.’s Journal of Arts and Letters and Harvard College’s Tuesday Magazine. He can be contacted at: anders7@fas.harvard.edu.